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Larry Seltzer
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Windows Phone: Great OS, Bad Name

Carriers don't have confidence in "Windows Phone" as a brand. Mostly they avoid discussing it. Fair or not, the name "Windows" doesn't inspire confidence among phone buyers. Microsoft should have named it something else.

Branding is important. People are comfortable with brands they trust and uncomfortable with brands they distrust. "Windows" isn't all that bad a brand overall, but in the smart phone market it doesn't gain trust.

This is a shame because Windows Phone is a great operating system. Unfortunately, it's not a product. When you buy a desktop or notebook PC, you may be buying a Dell or Lenovo or HP, but you're also keenly aware that you are buying a Windows computer. Not so with phones for most consumers.

But carriers can trick consumers into buying a Windows Phone handset. The phones can be disguised as handset makers' or carriers' own brands. For instance, when Android phones are advertised, there usually is no mention of Android unless they're talking to dweebs like me. However, ads for the iPhone emphasize the phone, not iOS the operating system. Apple, however, is a top brand and flaunting its phone is a key selling point.

But it's not just the desire to promote their own brands. One representative of a handset maker told me that they think their customers have negative views of the Windows brand. It doesn't have to be a majority; if a quarter of users get less than a warm fuzzy from the name "Windows" it's too much from the carrier and handset-makers' perspective. So most of the ads for the Lumia would give you the impression that these "tiles" and other UI characteristics are features of the Lumia.

When tricked into buying a phone with it, customers love Windows Phone. Look at the user ratings on the Nokia Lumia 900, the hot-stuff Windows Phone these days:

Amazon ratings breakdown
That's 4.8 out of 5 stars! The Lumia is a winner. Users love it and even the published reviews were largely very positive, such as InformationWeek's Fritz Nelson's.

In fact, I think it's fair to say that Windows Phone is well-respected in the technical community. If it's dismissed or ignored, it's for the view that Windows Phone and Microsoft are puny underdogs in this market, and that they are.

But that same lack of emphasis on operating systems lowers a barrier to entry. A company like Microsoft can force their foot in the door by throwing money at handset makers (like they did with Nokia) and at carriers. Windows 8, which will share a base of code with the desktop/tablet versions of Windows 8, may make it even more attractive by expanding the user software available.

Windows Phone could end up developing as good a reputation as the Lumia has. It really could happen. It would have been easier if Microsoft chose a name without so much baggage.

What should Microsoft have named Windows Phone? Put your suggestions in a comment below.

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